Rana sat on the living room couch, leaning her body against Fareed with her cheek resting against his shoulder. Her eyes were fixed on the TV before her, but her mind was focused on something else entirely.
Namely, the girl her son had invited into their home yesterday.
And the implication of that girl’s presence here.
Of course, Rana’s concerns weren’t as frivolous as Camilla’s. Rana’s daughter was convinced that Sirius and Nova were lovers. Camilla felt threatened, as if their guest would steal Sirius’s attention away from her. Which is why she was currently sulking in her room after being excluded from tonight’s outing. Rana too was curious about the exact nature of the relationship between the two teenagers, but her actual worries were somewhat more serious than that.
And apparently, Fareed shared at least some of them.
Oh, he and Sirius must have fondly imagined they were subtle and discreet enough about keeping their little secret, but while they may have fooled Camilla, Rana herself was another story altogether. Fareed and Rana were used to each other’s presence, and even minute changes in their mood would be noticed by the other. Right now, her husband, like Rana herself, might have his eyes on the television screen, but his thoughts were elsewhere. His disquiet was conspicuous enough for Rana to notice.
Additionally, it was, after all, Rana’s job to investigate some of the crime scenes she was convinced her son had left behind. He and his friend Wieslaw might have attempted to obfuscate the truth, but after a few too many coincidences, Rana had caught on.
And ever since catching on, she’d remained in this state of perpetual indecision. Even now, she still wasn’t quite sure how she should act.
On the one hand, the professional inside her told her she should arrest a violent criminal with no regard for the law she was supposed to enforce. On the other hand, the mother inside her told her to protect her beloved son against any negative consequences that might occur as a result of his actions. No matter what course of action she chose, she would end up betraying a part of herself.
And additionally, the curious individual inside her told her that she should perhaps ask a few questions of the young man who’d already been irrefutably shown to run faster than pursuing police cars, to jump over whole buildings in a single bound, to crush steel with his bare hands.
Do Wieslaw and Nova also share the same… abilities?
All in all, it was quite apparent to Rana her son was full of secrets he didn’t want to share even with his own family.
Perhaps another parent would have pressed Sirius for answers, but despite her internal conflicts, Rana trusted her son. He’d always shown in both words and actions that he was, quite plainly, a good man. Not only righteous, but also reasonable and measured. His kindness was tempered by enough maturity and patience not to throw himself into a deathtrap or pass too hasty a judgment on any situation. His actions might be quite violent and bloody, but Rana had been a detective for a long time. She wasn’t idealistic enough to fail to realize that the law was sometimes found inadequate. Not just once or twice had one of her cases been pulled out from under her feet because she’d gotten uncomfortably close to interfering in the shady affairs of a powerful public figure or a wealthy businessman. She wasn’t sure Sirius’s solution to the problem – namely, copious helpings of violence – was the right one, and she wasn’t sure that he should bear its burden even if it was, but again, she trusted him to make his own decisions.
Rana was also fairly certain Wieslaw was in on it.
And now, the two of them had involved someone else again…
Rana had made Wieslaw’s acquaintance several years ago, already. The young man was down-to-earth and realistic. He was a good influence on Sirius. She wasn’t as familiar with him as she was with Sirius, of course, but she still knew him enough to respect him and his judgment.
Unfortunately, Rana couldn’t say the same about Nova.
She just didn’t know much about her at all. Today – or rather, yesterday – wasn’t the first time Rana had heard of Nova Storm. Sirius and Wieslaw had both mentioned her several times in the years following their meeting in Altera, where Sirius had to employ his… particular set of skills to rescue Nova, the victim of a kidnapping attempt. And where he wrecked his father’s cherished motorcycle. However, second-hand accounts weren’t exactly ideal to get a good idea of someone’s character. Sirius and Wieslaw had described her as childish and eccentric and individualistic. But somehow, they had failed to mention that she was gorgeous enough to make even Rana sometimes catch herself staring at her mindlessly – not with any strange motive, obviously, but more as if she were admiring a masterfully crafted piece of art. Perhaps, the two boys thought it would have been embarrassing or filled with implicit meaning if they’d reported meeting such a beauty. More importantly, they’d also failed to report that the girl had received military training of some kind. Rana could tell in the way Nova held herself, in the way she moved and acted in even the most casual of situations.
And also, in the way she went out this morning with a deadly-looking dagger strapped to the back of her belt. That had been a pretty obvious clue. Nova didn’t show it off like a new toy or a fashion statement. She merely wore it like it was the most natural thing in the world and there was nothing unusual for her to carry a weapon. Even Rana wouldn’t have noticed that Nova was armed except for a lucky glance when Nova adjusted her jacket.
I wonder what other surprises are hiding in that suitcase of hers.
Rana was still lost in thought when the low-budget sci-fi flick they’d been watching suddenly cut to a flash news announcement. The news company’s logo slid across the screen, leaving place to a news anchor’s attractive face. The man maintained the air of warm and friendly studied indifference usual to men of his profession as he started speaking.
“We interrupt your evening’s program, ladies and gentlemen, to bring you exclusive coverage of a violent gunfight in the middle of Verizen. Attention, some might find these images disturbing. Viewer discretion is advised.” The screen split in half down the middle to show a part of nightly Verizen while the news anchor continued. “Sources within the police department tell us…”
Rana straightened up and tuned out the droning of the news anchor’s voice as she gazed upon the video feed. She also felt Fareed’s body stiffening minutely next to her.
The report was filmed from a helicopter hovering over a scene of violence more suited to a country ravaged by war than the peaceful, civilized capital of the largest nation in the world. A group of men in formal black dress suits covered the progress of a slightly overweight middle-aged lady wrapped in a thick white and pink nightgown. The image quality was good enough to even show the woman’s similarly colored slippers and her disheveled hair. She was currently facing the wrong way, hiding her face from the camera – though her face would probably be blurred anyway, in case it belonged to someone the news company couldn’t afford to mess with.
Rana knew they were right to be careful. Even from the back, she could recognize this woman. Ester Nevsky. On the surface, she was a successful and reputable politician and businesswoman with a great many influential friends and connections. One of the powers that be in Verizen, as it were. Under the thin veneer of lawful society, however, the old bat was a real piece of scum who’d dipped her toes in all manner of filthy ponds. In fact, she was one of the primary reasons so many of Rana’s investigations had to be quietly dropped by orders of her superiors. She just had that much pull. Every single time Rana had seen her in person, in the rare occasions the woman visited the police headquarters for one business or another, Nevsky had worn a look of smug self-satisfaction, as if taking great pleasure in the idea that she was walking among people whose job description it was to put her behind bars, yet who could only watch in impotence as she strutted around like she owned the place.
And now, the bitch was running for her life in her slippers, apparently desperate for the shelter of the law she usually spat on.
Rana didn’t even try to fight off the grin that made its way onto her lips.
She watched as, on the screen, Ester Nevsky rushed toward a lonely police car that had pulled over on the other side of the road, dangerously close to the commotion. Two police officers were taking shelter behind the car. They didn’t seem inclined to get out there and lay down the law. They didn’t even seem inclined to peek up from their cover, and Rana couldn’t blame them. They’d only get shot in the face for their trouble. Clearly, the two officers in that patrol had only stumbled upon this scene of warfare by chance or while investigating a disturbance they must not have expected to be quite so deadly. And thus ended up as the first responders, despite their inadequacy. Up at the top edge of the camera’s frame, more of the same, instantly recognizable red and blue flashing lights were fast approaching down the long, straight avenue that cut far into the distance, but for now, Rana’s two colleagues were without support in a rather prickly situation.
Rana turned her eyes toward the other end of the screen where most of the violence was taking place. Her gaze landed on a figure she’d expected to find, then trailed back toward the two helpless policemen.
They should be able to get out of this in one piece, unless they get terribly unlucky. Sirius wouldn’t fire upon innocent men just doing their jobs.
After giving a good view of the fleeing Nevsky, the cameraman in the helicopter slid the frame to the side, toward the juicy bits that would give his channel the real audience spike they were thirsting for.
Behind Nevsky stood her expansive and luxurious manor house, which she’d seemingly just escaped when the news report started. It looked slightly less luxurious than usual, however, on account of the part of it that someone had seen fit to blow up – it looked like a garage, with a row of flaming vehicles faintly visible amidst the flames. On the border of the grounds, near the tall wrought-iron, over-decorated fence that separated the house from the street Nevsky was even now trying to cross, the real battle was being waged. One man in a black, armored bodysuit and helmet, with a bunch of weapons hanging off his body, looking like some sort of black ops special forces soldier, faced off against nearly two dozen of the bodyguards Nevsky had hired for protection. Paradoxically enough, the bodyguards were trying to keep the intruder inside the house while the owner ran for the hills.
The man in the bodysuit was winning. The bodyguards dropped to the ground, bleeding and dying live on camera, while he gained ground despite the vastly more numerous opposition. But not quickly enough to stop Nevsky from boarding the police car, it seemed.
The two bodyguards on either side of her who escorted her in her unsightly flight lost patience with their charge when the situation behind them continued to deteriorate. They suddenly grabbed the smaller woman by the armpits and essentially carted her forward. She kept trying to run even though her feet were no longer touching the ground. It made for such a comical sight that it almost allowed Rana to forget her worry at Sirius’s situation.
And she’d just been thinking he was mature enough not to leap into a deathtrap! What in the world had gone through his head to attack Ester Nevsky’s property like this? Was he insane? Of course, she’d have hired a ton of protection services!
As Rana bit her lip in anxiety and leaned forward on the couch, Nevsky finally reached the police car. Her bodyguards completely ignored the two officers hiding on the other side of the car. They threw Nevsky in the backseat. One bodyguard entered after her, while the other jumped into the driver’s seat. He gunned the engine, and the car darted away before its doors could even close, leaving behind only traces of burnt rubber on the road and two cops looking bewildered as the cover they’d been counting on suddenly rolled away.
It didn’t roll far, though.
Just a few dozen meters away, as the hijacked police car was building up speed, a heavy cement mixer truck suddenly burst out of a side street at reckless speed. The truck’s driver had exquisite timing. The truck rammed the police car’s side and crumpled its frame like paper. The truck barely even slowed down as it pushed the car and plowed deep into a storefront on the other side of the road. Not only did the store’s display windows break, but the brick walls all around also couldn’t resist and caved in in turn. The impact was so vicious and unexpected that the news report’s image wobbled violently as the cameraman almost fumbled with his camera.
The truck then backed away, dust and rubble raining down from its hood, leaving the police car embedded into the building so deep it couldn’t be seen from the outside anymore.
Did Nevsky die? Just like that? And what if there were people in that building? Or if it collapsed?
Even though they were technically criminals, Rana knew Sirius and Wieslaw always did everything they could to avoid collateral damage. It was a large part of why she could even entertain the idea that what they were doing wasn’t entirely wrong and why she so hesitated on whether to stop them or not.
But this… this had been far too reckless, too dangerous. It could’ve easily resulted in civilian casualties. It still might, in fact.
Is this Nova’s doing?
The news anchor and the reporter in the helicopter were shouting at each other, pretending to be horrified at the abrupt twist in the situation. Of course, this supposed horror most certainly didn’t translate into cutting the feed. The producer must have been gleefully cheering the parties involved and hoping events would get even more graphic.
And they got what they asked for.
# # #
“Nova!” Sirius’s angry voice rang out in her helmet. “It told you to wait!”
Nova ignored the big doofus and kicked open the truck’s door. It had gotten stuck when the impact bent and distorted the cabin’s frame and refused to open when she used the handle. She climbed out of the truck, broken glass cracking under the soles of her boots, and looked at the results of her work.
Despite Sirius’s vocal disapproval, it was a very satisfying sight, indeed.
What was left of the target’s car was encased in a wall deep inside the building. Fragments of small tables and stools, along with the remains of a counter and dozens of shattered bottles were heaped near the back wall, all around the car. All that remained of what must have been a bar or coffee shop of some sort. The driver of the police car was dead as a doornail. His shattered body lied halfway out of the car’s window, dripping blood in a steadily expanding puddle. The two passengers in the back weren’t injured as gravely. Or rather, they were injured quite gravely, but they weren’t corpses just yet.
Allow me to correct this little oversight.
That bodyguard in the back with Ester Nevsky most likely carried a weapon. It was doubtful if he was in any condition to operate that weapon, but Nova wasn’t in the habit of taking risks when they could be avoided so easily.
She primed an incendiary grenade, then tossed it accurately through the car’s passenger window to land on the passengers’ laps. Nevsky and the mook stirred, though they looked too out of it still to show any proper reaction. Then, the grenade burst in a conflagration of flames and heat.
“HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA! HAAAA! HAAAAAAAA!”
Horrible screeches tore through the night, drowning out even the sound of gunfire coming from Sirius’s battlefield. The bodyguard died quickly, but Nevsky herself took longer. Nova wasn’t sure why. She hadn’t exactly intended for this, but it was a happy miscalculation. She watched for a few seconds as the indistinct form of the old woman struggled, wreathed in fire.
Finally, the creature responsible for everything Nova had seen tonight died. And good fucking riddance to her. One less blight upon the world.
‘Mission accomplished,’ Nova sent on the comms.
There was a small pause before Wieslaw’s sober voice replied. He didn’t seem particularly happy at the announcement. “Good. Go for extraction now. You have only 20 seconds until the police arrive. Sirius, too. Go.”
Nova glanced over her shoulder. The two cops whose car Nevsky had borrowed had already left the scene. They probably weren’t particularly keen on trying to arrest a murderous nutjob flinging explosives around, especially when backup was only seconds away. On the other hand, with Sirius starting to disengage, some of the bodyguards were redirecting their attention toward her, which didn’t bode well for her if she stayed.
Nova took off running. A bright spotlight from one of the helicopters hovering over the area was trained on her, but she’d be able to cut through the construction site where she’d stolen that cement truck, then lose herself in the maze of alleys and shortcuts and rejoin Wieslaw to the van. Sirius himself had already successfully broken off from the heated battle he’d been engaged in and sprinted his way around Nevsky’s mansion and across the grounds toward the other, less war-torn side of her property. He’d leap over the fence there and hopefully evade any pursuit too.
In any case, Nova faced little danger now that she was away from the scene. With Wielsaw directing her every step of the way, it only took a few minutes for her to lose her tail. Afterward, she safely found the van and hopped aboard.
The van drove itself along a predetermined path while Wieslaw worked in the back, still coordinating with Sirius. He nodded to her upon seeing her safe and sound, then turned back to his computer screens, voicing instructions into his mike.
Nova settled in a seat behind him and removed her helmet. It unsealed with a hiss of escaping air. She put it on the floor next to her as she closed her eyes and relaxed all the muscles in her body.
Tonight had been exhausting. After cleaning up the hotel, they’d hit three other gang hideouts all over the capital before finally going after the mastermind of the whole operation and launching an assault on her mansion. Nova had known the plan beforehand, of course, since they’d discussed all the details earlier in the day, but she hadn’t expected it to be so physically demanding. She hadn’t even done much compared to Sirius, but she still felt like she wanted to spend the next 48 hours in a warm, comfy bed.
She let out a small, tired sigh and gingerly rolled her shoulder, trying to work off some of the pain still left over after one of Nevsky’s bodyguards landed a lucky shot on her, just earlier, as he laid down covering fire against the sniper who threatened his little friends. That had been what convinced her to retreat from her vantage point and look for another way to make an impact on the mission. Wieslaw had suggested she take the cement mixer truck and block off the street to prevent Nevsky’s escape, in case Sirius failed to take her out inside the mansion’s grounds. Nova had indeed taken the truck, but she’d used it for a different purpose.
Wincing at the pain, Nova opened the front of her suit and gently slid it off her shoulder, inspecting the damage. The bullet hadn’t penetrated the suit, of course, but it had still been a heavy rifle round. Just the concussive force of it had left a nasty bruise behind.
I was lucky. A few centimeters to the side and I’d have a broken collarbone.
Nova carefully tugged the suit back over the injury just as Wieslaw rose from his computers and hurried to the driver’s seat. A second later, the van’s side door opened, and Sirius jumped inside with Wieslaw’s drones flying around his head like tiny moons around a planet. Sirius closed the door behind him, and the van accelerated.
“Aaaand we’re away,” Wieslaw called from the front of the van. “Good job, everyone.”
But Sirius decided to be a party pooper. He removed his helmet and faced Nova, frowning, his stance confrontational. “Are we going to talk about it?” he growled.
‘There is nothing to talk about,’ Nova replied. ‘Mission accomplished.’
Sirius’s frown turned into a scowl. “There could have been innocent civilians in that shop!” he said with obvious heat in his voice. “I told you to wait until Wieslaw cleared it with his drones!”
‘There was no time for that. The target would have escaped.’
“Better that than killing some poor bastard whose only fault was to be in the wrong place at the wrong time! You didn’t know the shop was empty. There could have been people in there! Women! Children!”
Nova shrugged. ‘I don’t think I would have stopped either way. They would have been acceptable collateral damage.’
“What?” Sirius asked, as if he couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “We told you before we started this. No innocent casualties at all. This was not negotiable. And you agreed to this condition.”
Nova sighed again and closed her eyes. She was tired and her shoulder hurt and she could really do without a sermon, right now. Though she already considered it lucky that their conflicting views didn’t become a real problem until the whole operation was already successful.
In any case, Nova didn’t think she’d made a mistake. Even if her stunt had ended up causing someone’s unintended and unfortunate death – which it didn’t; all the deaths were absolutely deliberate – well, tough luck. Better that than letting the old bitch escape. Otherwise, she’d just set up shop elsewhere and start hurting even more people.
It was the same old argument she and Sirius had already had about the reincarnator with the mind control powers. Better to kill a few innocents tonight and get rid of the threat once and for all, than to see many die later on, even if the later ones didn’t technically die by her hands.
It was a simple question of mathematics.
Though the sacrifices and their loved ones might not see it that way.
Tch. I’m not even sure killing only that old cunt will be enough to put a stop to everything. She couldn’t have done all that on her own. She definitely had friends who helped cover her wrinkly old ass and profited from her… business ventures.
Still. While there were still a whole lot of scumbags out in the world, this was nothing new. And no responsibility of Nova’s. At least, one of those scumbags had burned to death, tonight. And the three of them had gathered enough dirt on Nevsky’s activities during their city-wide rampage that, hopefully, spreading it around would cause a stir worthy of a few more heads rolling.
All in all, a good day’s work.
“Nova, are you even listening? If we can’t even follow some simple rules, we won’t be any different than the people we’re trying to stop! This is what sets us apart from them!”
A good day’s work only marred by Sirius’s nagging, which made the pain in her shoulder seem bearable by comparison. With a bit of luck, he’d bonk his head on the ceiling and fall unconscious when Wieslaw drove over a bump in the road or something.
Otherwise, she’d probably have to shoot him in the face to shut him up.